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AIDS spreading in Latin America

/ Source: The Associated Press

Latin America has not experienced a full-blown AIDS epidemic, but the disease is spreading into the general population from high-risk individuals, according to a World Bank report released Tuesday.

“HIV/AIDS in Latin American Countries: The Challenges Ahead” presents the results of a 2001 survey of health workers, governments and international organizations in 17 countries, spanning a region from Mexico to Argentina.

Latin American countries are increasing efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, but these measures are hampered by inadequate resources, underreporting of the disease, inadequate health care and social prejudices, the report said.

Approximately 130,000 adults and children were infected with HIV in 2001, and 80,000 died of AIDS, according to the study.

But the researchers say underreporting is so common that the region likely has 30 percent more cases of AIDS and 40 percent more cases of HIV than existing statistics show.

“Although AIDS accounts for only a fraction of all adult deaths in most Latin American nations, those deaths occur in the most productive years of life,” the study’s authors wrote.

In almost all the countries in the study, infection rates are still concentrated in high-risk populations, such as prisoners, injecting drug users, commercial sex workers and men who have sex with men.

Nearly 2 percent of Honduran adults are infected with HIV. In Brazil, which has the highest number of HIV/AIDS cases in Latin America, heterosexual sex is the main mode of transmission in the southern region.

Heterosexual sex is also the primary mode of transmission in Central America, the authors said, while sex between men the is predominant means in South America. Intravenous drug use plays a significant role in the Southern Cone countries of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile.

According to the most recent report of the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, an estimated 42 million people worldwide are living with the disease. The Caribbean is the world’s second most affected region, after sub-Saharan Africa.

The World Bank study was co-authored by Anabela Garcia Abreu, Isabel Noguer and Karen Cowgill and was released in Washington.

The Brazilian Health Ministry on Tuesday announced its second accord this month for discounts in the purchase of anti-AIDS drugs, this time with Merck & Co., a spokesman said.

The Brazilian government will buy Merck’s Efavirenz drug, used in a government-distributed cocktail of anti-AIDS drugs, at a 25 percent discount, said Javier Martinez, spokesman for the ministry’s anti-AIDS unit. He said the discount will produce a savings equal to about $10 million per year in the government’s anti-AIDS program.